The Belleville News-Democrat won several top prizes at the Illinois Press Association, including several honors for its investigative series “Violation of Trust.”
The News-Democrat’s in-depth investigation of how sexual assault cases are pursued by authorities won five first-place awards in various categories, including best investigative reporting, news series, community service and promotion of the people’s right to know.
The series, reported and written by Beth Hunsdorfer and George Pawlaczyk, examined many aspects of the investigation and prosecution of rape, including how seldom the victims of the assaults find justice.
“This project was outstanding in terms of the reporters' legwork, the powerful storytelling, the clear and compelling findings of the investigation, and the call to action. The newspaper's yearlong investigation uncovered a disturbing pattern of injustice in sexual assault cases across 32 counties in Illinois. It included the personal stories of victims, as well as the accused. And the data presentation was excellent,” wrote one of the judges.
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Another wrote that the series told “a very moving story through the eyes of those impacted.”
The News-Democrat’s IPA awards include:
• Community service: First place for Beth Hunsdorfer and George Pawlaczyk for “Violations of Trust”
• Investigative/enterprise reporting: First place to Beth Hunsdorfer and George Pawlaczyk for “Violations of Trust”; and honorable mention to Beth Hunsdorfer and George Pawlaczyk for an investigation into the finances of state parole board members.
• News reporting – series: First place to Beth Hunsdorfer and George Pawlaczyk for “Violation of Trust.”
• News reporting – single story: Honorable mention to George Pawlaczyk for “Parks write-in votes.”
“Though this was a difficult category to judge with many great entries, I had to give a nod to the work done here. Excellent use of open records and finding a handwriting expert to conduct analysis. I love seeing this kind of dedication to a story,” one judge wrote.
• Government beat reporting: Honorable mention to Brian Brueggemann for the state government beat. “Brian Brueggemann does a great job of picking stories that matter to readers from the data of state government and then localizing those stories. Good, compelling writing,” wrote one of the judges.
• Feature writing: Honorable mention to Teri Maddox for “Once Upon a Time in Prison.”
“Writer Teri Maddox captures the pain and yearning of inmates trying to retain some connection with their children from behind prison walls,” one judge wrote.
• Spot news photo: First place to Derik Holtmann for “Gone Girl Found.”
• Editorial cartoon: First, second and honorable mention to Glenn McCoy for “Paris 911” and others.
• Best website: Honorable mention for the staff of BND.com.
• Best web projects: First place for Brad Weisenstein, Zia Nizami, Beth Hunsdorfer and George Pawlaczyk for “Violations of Trust” and its database of southern Illinois felony sex crimes.
“The BND's analysis and reporting on the surprising dearth of prosecutions of sex crimes across a wide area is a sad, horrible tale that should, if there is justice in the land, lead to massive reforms by police and prosecutors,” a judge wrote. “Public officials seemingly were unaware of how bad it was and pledged to make changes. What a tribute to the deft handling of large amounts of information and great writing and reporting of personal stories by your reporters and editors.”
• Best promotion of the public’s right to know: First place to the News-Democrat staff for “Violations of Trust.”
• Mabel S. Shaw Memorial Trophy for mid-size papers’ overall excellence: Fourth place for the News-Democrat staff.
• Another 13 awards for the BND advertising staff.
“Violation of Trust” also won the Best Investigative Series and the Sweepstakes Award in the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors Association’s annual editorial contest Thursday, among several other honors.
In all, the News-Democrat won 15 awards ranging from first place to honorable mention. The awards were presented at the Illinois Press Association’s annual convention in Springfield Friday.